How the concept of “sub-families” eased my stepmom guilt


I’m a wife, stepmom x3 and mom x 1 who when I couldn’t find the stepmom support I was looking for, decided to create it myself. I love mac + cheese, distressed denim, sauvignon blanc and all things Dateline. 

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PhotoCred: Photography by Nataal

PhotoCred: Photography by Nataal

This time of of year can result in some serious guilt for step-parents and parents who share custody of children with an ex-spouse.

It can be tricky to figure out how to navigate holidays and celebrations when your time with your kids is limited. Even more so when you have an “ours baby” who is with you all the time.

Do you wait and celebrate during your scheduled time with the kids?
Do you go on with the show and if they are there they are there,  and if they aren’t, they aren’t? 
Or is it something in between? 

It is a really difficult thing to manage.

When we had our daughter, my husband and I really struggled with how to move forward, especially when it came to holidays and celebrations. 

We don’t want my stepchildren to feel like they are missing out when they are with their Mom, but also don’t want our daughter to grow up feeling like her life is dictated by a week-on-week-off access schedule.  

When it comes to holidays like Christmas, ideally we can all be together and celebrate everything as a family – however that’s just not realistic. My stepchildren have a whole other family who want the same thing. Like my daughter always says “we have to share them with their mom”

It can be so challenging to balance because no matter what we do, it always seems like someone is getting the raw end of the deal. 

You want to treat all of your children the same, but when one is with you more than the others, it’s a difficult thing to actually do.

Inevitably, the child who is with you all the time is going to get more. It’s simple math. They spend more time with you, so they end up getting more of your time, attention and resources. 

Personally, that’s something that once upon a time, caused me some serious stepmom guilt.  

I never ever want my stepchildren to feel like they are missing out, or that my daughter gets more than they do – even though, sometimes, that’s the case. 

A few months back,  I read an article that talked about the concept of sub-families within blended families.

 I wish I wrote down the author and saved the article because the concept has been a total game changer for me. 

I’d love the opportunity to thank the author for easing my stepmom guilt and forever changing the way that I look at our family dynamic. 

The concept of sub-families goes a little something like this.

Yes, we are apart of one big family. My husband, my three step-children, our daughter Reese and I. But within that larger family unit, there are also sub-families:

  • My husband and three stepchildren

  • My husband, our daughter and I.

    If you want to take it to the next level, another sub-family includes my stepchildren and their mom.

Most of the time we try to do stuff together as one large family. For us its important to make memories and foster relationships as that whole – but it’s just as important to recognize (and honour) the sub-families within.

Even though we function as a large family unit, my husband and step-children a have history, memories and traditions that my daughter and I will never truly understand – because we weren’t apart of it.

It’s a part of their story that is not a part of ours.

Because of that, they sometimes function as a separate unit. As a stepmom, I quickly learned that I need to accept that even though we have created a larger family unit,  there are parts of their history and relationships that go way beyond me.  Starting a new blended family doesn’t mean that that dynamic should no longer exist. 

Which is why I always encourage my stepchildren to have alone time with their dad- and am never offended when they go off and do things on their own. 

Then, every other week, our family functions with three. Half of the time, it is just my husband, our daughter and I. 

I used to feel a tremendous amount of guilt about carrying on with life as usual while my stepchildren were with their mom. But really, what are we supposed to do?

Our daughter’s life shouldn’t be placed on hold. 


How The Concept Of Sub-Families Eased My Stepmom Guilt - Jamie Scrimgeour


The concept of sub-families reminded me that they too carrying on with life as usual, functioning as as the family unit that they are! They are their own sub-family within this big complicated dynamic. 

When it comes to Christmas and celebrating holidays, because we have my stepchildren with us half of the time, we do half of the celebrating with them. 

We try and schedule as much as possible while they are with us, but when they go back to their Moms the show still goes on.

So as a result, we have different sets of family traditions.

There are traditions that my husband has with my stepchildren, there are traditions that we all do as a family, and we’ve also created traditions that the three of us do while the kids are with their mom – just like they have traditions with her, that don’t involve us. 

Like I said above, access schedules that conflict with holiday celebrations can lead to some complicated feelings for blended families this time of year. 

My hope is that the concept of sub-families eases some of that guilt, and gives you permission to have a Merry Christmas no matter what your schedule with your stepchildren looks like this year. 


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